To the left and right of the road, the steppe spreads out into infinity, an Andean condor sails effortlessly in the wind. Our blogger Kathrin was in Patagonia for two weeks, let herself drift and made her dream come true. In our blog post, she takes you to the enchanting region of South America.
I hadn’t quite left the metropolitan area of Punta Arenas before I was in the middle of this Patagonia I had dreamed of for so long: I had two weeks at the end of the world ahead of me. Just my rental car, my hiking boots, my tent and me. Without much planning, I wanted to drift through this world of vast steppes and rocky giants. And finally make my dream of traveling through Patagonia come true.
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Black rock and colorful wildlife in Pali Aike National Park
There are those places in Patagonia that you just can’t avoid and don’t want to. They are far too beautiful, spectacular and unique to want to miss them.
The small Pali Aike National Park is not necessarily one of them – and yet it was one of the highlights of my road trip. Here I first wanted to arrive in Patagonia in peace, and I should get this peace. I was the only visitor that day who was standing in front of the barrier at the small visitor center after a three-hour drive from Punta Arenas, the last half hour of which was on gravel roads.
From there I explored the sights of the park, which is located on the volcanic field of the same name, along a small gravel road. Its history is clearly visible thanks to craters, caves and cooled lava flows and several smaller hikes lead to the most exciting of them. There is also the Laguna Ana, where (with a bit of luck) you can spot flamingos. But not only flamingos cavort in the park, but also a lot of other bird and animal species. Among them are many rheas, the ostriches of Patagonia, so to speak, and the iconic guanacos that graze the steppe here in droves.
On dusty roads through the endless expanse of Argentina
From Pali Aike I crossed the border to Argentina directly, first going north along the east coast and then through the interior of the country to the other side and thus in the direction of the mountains.
Unfortunately, the large colony of penguins that live during the Patagonian summer at Cabo Virgenes were already on their way to warmer climes. Otherwise I would definitely have taken the 100 km bumpy gravel road first. If that is too far for you, you can also see penguins in the Monte León National Park right on the coast.
One last gas up (something you’re better off doing too much than too little in Patagonia) and I turned onto Ruta 288. A mostly gravel side road that should take me 250 km from Puerto Santa Cruz to Tres Lagos. 250 km, on which I saw almost no human soul apart from a few gauchos on their horses. The sky was bright blue, the sun surprisingly warm for this time of year and there was no sign of the notorious Patagonian wind. I couldn’t get enough of the almost endless expanse that stretched out in all directions to the horizon and got at least a small impression of how spacious and empty this part of the world really is.
Trekking tour to the most famous mountains of Patagonia
After all the steppe, it was time for a change: I could see the iconic peaks of Fitz Roy, one of the most famous peaks in Patagonia, which towers high above El Chaltén, from afar. The small town is the (self-proclaimed) trekking capital and everything here revolves around hiking, mountaineering and climbing.
For three days I explored the imposing mountains of the northern Los Glaciares National Park on a trekking tour and got as close to Fitz Roy and the almost equally well-known Cerro Torre as is possible in simple hiking shoes.
Unfortunately, the peaks were quite shy on these days and only occasionally flashed through the cloud layer. The sunrise at Laguna Torre is still one of the most beautiful experiences I had in Patagonia. When the soft pink of the morning sky competes with the bright blue chunks of ice in the lagoon, you simply don’t need a mountain to be happy.
Admire ice masses on the Perito Moreno glacier
From the ice of Laguna Torre we went on to more ice. So much ice that I couldn’t quite grasp the size of the Perito Moreno Glacier even when I was standing right in front of it. The foothills of the glacier, which is about an hour’s drive from the city of El Calafate, are up to 5 km wide and 70 m high. You can admire it from all angles in peace and quiet on long wooden walkways and viewing platforms. And if you’re lucky, you’ll be standing right where a piece of the huge mass of ice breaks off and falls into the water with a loud crash and roar.
The whole thing is even more impressive if you approach the glacier from the water on one of the excursion boats. Of course, the boats keep a safe distance from the ice masses.
By the way: The Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that is not shrinking, but is even growing!
Pure Patagonia in Torres Del Paine National Park
They are the symbol of the national park of the same name, if not the whole of Patagonia: the three rock towers that give the Torres del Paine National Park its name. Probably Chile’s most famous postcard motif attracts many visitors to the end of the world. And the sight of Mirador Torres is truly worth every effort that the relatively strenuous and long ascent entails.
But Torres Del Paine National Park is so much more than that: Turquoise blue lakes, large glaciers, thundering waterfalls, wild rivers and endless rolling hills and grassy plains surround the rugged Paine mountain range.
In order to be able to experience the park in all its diversity and vastness, I decided not to do the popular W-Trek, a 5-day hike along the mountain massif, but to explore the area on day hikes. My favorite was the tour to Mirador Ferrier, a little-visited vantage point that offers a great view of everything that makes this place so special.
Patagonia by rental car – travel tips
- Best travel time: December to February is the height of summer, when the temperatures are most pleasant, but also the most tourists and the highest prices. If you like it a little more lonely (and cheaper), either spring in October/November or autumn in March/April is recommended. However, at these times it can still or again become very cold, although rough and unpredictable weather is part of everyday life here anyway.
- Book a rental car: Many roads (sections) in Patagonia are not paved and, depending on the location and popularity, more or less in good condition. If you want to travel Patagonia by rental car, you should definitely use a rental company that allows you to drive on unpaved roads, which is usually only the case with four-wheel drive vehicles. I rented my SUV through Europcar .
- Itinerary: The distances in Patagonia are long and the well-known national parks in particular invite you to extensive hikes and trekking tours. As far as the choice of the travel route is concerned, you should therefore plan conservatively, also because the weather can spoil your travel planning at any time. For a travel time of two to three weeks, a round trip in the south from/to Punta Arenas in Chile or El Calafate in Argentina is ideal. If you have a little more time, you can either cross over to Tierra del Fuego or drive further north to Puerto Montt by (more expensive) one-way rental.